mood food


A persistent low mood such as depression and anxiety is devastating. In my post on Brain Health, I went into some key dietary factors that determine the physiological health of our brains. Here in this post I am going to go a little deeper to give you more insights and more solutions to mood issues.

I’ve spent much of my life dealing with depression, anxiety and researching effective cures as well as coping strategies. And I certainly know the multiplicity of factors that can determine moods. The foundation for this is physiological health of our brains – and whether we are feeding ourselves the right nutrients to optimise brain functionality. This in turn will set the stage to influence our thoughts and moods. Here in this post you will find:


  • Nutritional therapy strategies to effectively deal with the the key factors in persistent low moods

Insights into key causal factors:

  • Identify if you have a deficiency in key neurotransmitters Serotonin and Dopamine and what you can do to resolve this
  • Are you suffering from endorphin burnout?
  • Are you under too much stress? Answer the quick question below to find out how much stress may be ruling your moods

Nutritional therapy and diet emphasis

The role of nutritional therapy is to provide body with sufficient nutrients so that it can:

  1. create the neurotransmitters it needs
  2. have them readily available in order to avoid deficiency due to overtaxing and overusing an organ system
  3. have sufficient reserves and avoid overuse of a system / depletion / de-sensitization

Key Nutrients and diet advice

  • Have 3 good meals and snacks, no skipping meals, especially breakfast
  • Protein: 20 to 30 grams per meal from sources that contain all 22 amino acids:
    • Fish (note that farmed fish may be low in Omega 3), Poultry, Eggs (3 needed), Cheese
    • Beef, Lamb, Venison, Buffalo – also contain Carnitine and Taurine aminos and also highly bioavailable iron and zinc. Very good for athletes
    • Vegetarians need to mix to get all amino acids
      • combine grains together with legumes or combine nuts and/or seeds with either grains or legumes to get complete amino blend
      • more quantity of food will be needed (than on meat diet) to get overall quantity of protein needed
      • carbohydrate either from legumes or grains will provide bulk which could lead to sleepiness and loss of calorie control
  • Fats
    • Omega 3 – also MAO inhibitor and useful for depression, ADD and alcoholism
    • Saturated
      • less likely to be damaged from oxidation
      • aids absorption of Vitamins A, D E and Calcium
      • Butter an an excellent fat source and high in Vitamin A and butyrate
        • butyrate is a fast burning fat used by brain for fuel and also as a base for GABA
        • butyrate also used as fuel by cells in colon, thus aiding colon health
  • Carbohydrate
    • Low Carbohydrate vegetables
      • 4 to 5 cups per day for minerals, vitamins and enzymes needed for protein and neurotransmitter formation and function
    • High Carbohydrate foods
      • added according to metabolic need (eg weight loss, sport)
      • include fruit, high-carb veg such as carrots, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, winter squash, grain and legumes
  • Supplements
    • Type A people and people dealing with high stress may need a Hydrochloric Acid supplement to aid with digestion
    • Tyrosine can restore adrenal ability to withstand stress and provide anti-depressant, stress protective powers as well as being primary component in pleasure promoting enkephalins
      • Can be used to replace coffee first thing in day
      • Excess can cause jitters and raise blood pressure


  • Sugar and white starch (rice, flour) – due to effects of
    • raising insulin, increasing fat storage, leading to reactive hypoglycemia
    • resultant release of adrenal hormones to raise blood sugar which in themslves cause anxiety, irritability and shakiness
  • High carb and low protein meals which
    • raise serotonin levels in the brain, and this leads to sleepiness and calm
    • dysglycemia = blood sugar issues:
      • hyperinsulemic response to high carb meal resulting in reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
      • adrenals released due to low blood sugar will
        • catabolize muscle and liver glycogen stores leaving little glycogen available for essential body functions
        • cause anxiety, irritability and shakiness
      • repeated high carb food intake has a conditioning effect on both insulin and adrenal release
  • Allergy (Gluten, Dairy, Corn, Soy, etc) foods
    • Gluten allergies linked to thyroid disorder
    • all allergy foods linked to mood disorders that disappear on elimination diet
  • Bad fats
  • Unfermented Soy
    • isoflavones impair thyroid hormone formation leading to low thyroid
    • high phytate content impairs absorption of thyroid and brain nutrients zinc, iodine and iron
    • impairs digestion and can lead to leaky gut
    • disrupts sex hormones due to phytoestrogenic effects
    • can lead to Alzheimer’s and premature brain ageing
  • Skipping meals (like breakfast) – which leads to high stress and low energy
  • Low fat, low protein diets – that deprive brain of vital nutrients (eg butyrate in butter, ketones from protein metabolism)
  • Packaged foods and aspartame
  • Caffeine
    • Depletes natural uppers (eg serotonin, dopamine, endorphins) and leads to crashes in energy and irritability, anxiety – needs combining with protein and fat food intake
    • Depletes mood nutrients: B vitamins, Vitamin C, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc
    • Overstimulates and weakens kidneys, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, heart, nervous system, adrenal glands
    • acidifies pH of body and blood

Serotonin and being flexible, warm and happy

  • Serotonin transmits positive feelings and thoughts and enhances pride, sound sleep, enjoying family and friends, peace, half full attitude, looking forward with positive anticipation
  • Deficiency very common and leads to symptoms that are both psychological and physical such as anxiety, depression, perfectionism, panic, irritability, insomnia, PMS and muscle pain
    • Other symptoms comprise lack of accomplishment vs pride; insomnia vs sleep; irritated by family members vs enjoying their company; anxiety vs peace; half empty glass vs half full; feeling dread vs positive anticipation
  • See my previous post for more details about Serotonin

Catecholamines (CA) and being motivated and focused

  • Dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine
  • Arouse and excite both mentally and emotionally; primer for action; determine extent of being extroverted or introverted
  • Exciting prospects for the future arouse them in anticipation:
    • If Catecholamines levels are low there will be little to no reaction (ie apathetic depression)
  • Symptoms of being low:
    • easy distracted and poor mental concentration
    • easily drawn to stimulants such as coffee, but these lead to CA depletion
  • Stress depletes adrenal resources for making CAs
  • Exercise can raise CA levels
  • See my previous post for more details about Dopamine

Sensitivity and Endorphin burnout

  • Sad feelings are natural, but when unbearably painful, go on for too long or appear without obvious reason, low endorphins may be the cause
    • Dealing with any physical or emotional pain necessitates sufficient endorphins beforehand
    • Endorphins provide a shielding layer and they can easily be depleted
  • Causes of endorphin deficiency / burnout
    • Genes and nurture – being instructed to turn off feelings, being ignored, being taunted or being brought up by people with those traits
    • Excess stress –
      • endorphins released during stress
      • endorphins also aid in the regulation of stress, causing 50% drop in cortisol
    • Physical pain and repression of emotions – leads to the use of and depletion of endorphins to block pain and can result in the use of other substances (eg alcohol and drugs) to block pain
    • Gender
      • women have lower endorphins, thus can become over emotional as levels drop lower
      • men by contrast have higher threshold to pain but can become depleted due to covering up sensitivities
  • Food support:
    • Protein for all essential and non essential amino acids
    • Fats – which encourage endorphin release
    • Vegetables – for mineral and vitamin enzymes
  • Exercise
    • If endorphin levels are low, release may be low
      • thus encouraging behaviour in search of endorphin high
      • Sex, sugar, alcohol, drugs and exercise can force a brief release but can lead to addictions
    • If behaviour is excessive in search of endorphin release, it is best to
      • take a supplement (eg DLPA)
      • exercise less and break food/drug/sex addictions
    • Hitting the wall in exercise / excess exercise
      • induces endorphin release – but is dangerous
      • no high after intense exercise indicates endorphin deficiency / burnout
  • Sunlight, music, romance and contact with nature can all raise levels of endorphins

Stress and adrenal overload

  • Gauge the degree of burn out and how life can feel when overwhelm is rare (as opposed to being constant) by asking yourself
    • how easy would it be to do the following?
      • face deadlines, confrontations and setbacks with gusto and humor
      • find excitement facing difficult challenge (eg diet, first job, marathons)
      • have relaxed shoulders and body
      • spend a day daydreaming and relaxing, or lounging with friends
  • Gauge stress coping strategies, such as those learned from family or peers (ie coping mechanisms that include alcoholism and mood foods)
  • Biological stress results from
    • blood sugar irregularity (excess or deficiency) causing adrenal surges
    • infections, allergens, excess exercise and toxins
    • toxin overload and reduced ability of liver to manage toxic load and leading to symptoms that include increased sensitivity to toxins that induces stress, irritability and anxiety
  • Multivitamin and mineral needed to replace nutrients depleted by stress and caffeine use

Adapted from:

Ross, J. (2002). The Mood Cure. New York, N.Y.: Penguin

Kharrazian, D. (2013): Why isn’t my brain working? – the best book for understanding brain health

Fox, A. (1985): DLPA to end chronic pain and depression

Braverman, E. (2002): The healing nutrients within

Ehrenpreis, S. (1983): Degradation of endogenous opioids: its relevance in human pathology and therapy

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